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In Case You Missed It – May 15, 2015 – Black girls matter, abuse of mentally ill prisoners, 40 years

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In this week’s In Case You Missed It (a roundup of articles related to psychology, health, mental health and social justice collated from multiple news and commentary websites) we cover the impact of race and poverty on black girls, the routine physical abuse experienced by mentally ill inmates, the link between chronic depression and risk of stroke in later life and 40 years of research on bullying and more.

Make sure to also check out these APA publications:

  1. Monitor on Psychology – our monthly magazine

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  3. In the Public Interest – the Public Interest Directorate’s monthly newsletter.

Black students are suspended more often, expelled more often, and punished more harshly than white students. Teachers’ stereotypes affect how black students are seen and treated.  The growing recognition of the impact of race and poverty on access to a good education is generating a growing focus on improving opportunities for students of color – but much of this focus has been on African American boys.   Some are challenging this singular focus on boys.  “Even though we might experience racism in different ways,” says UCLA and Columbia Professor of Law Kimberlé Crenshaw, “at the end of the day, it’s a group experience—and at the end of the day, the solutions should be a group experience.”

Being doused with chemical sprays, shocked with electronic stun guns, strapped for hours to chairs or beds. These are just some of the routine physical abuses that mentally ill inmates in American prisons and jails are subjected to, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. The mistreatment, the study says, has led to deaths. However, tracking the number of casualties is difficult because jails and prisons classify them in various ways. In addition, they are not uniformly required to report the use of force by guards, the study found. In their review, researchers found that prisoners suffering from serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, were often punished with physical force for commonplace behaviors including using profanity and banging on cell doors. For more on the mental health concerns of prison inmates, read this Monitor story Incarceration nation.

If you or an older loved one is among millions of Americans who struggle with chronic depression, you may have an extremely high risk for stroke. A new study from the American Heart Association says the risk seems to remain high even after the depression goes away. The study was conducted by a group of public health researchers who examined data gathered over a dozen years from over 16,000 people age 50 and older for the Health and Retirement study. Every two years between 1998 and 2010, people were quizzed about their depressive symptoms, their stroke history and their behaviors that might put them at risk for stroke. According to AHA spokesperson Dr. Philip Gorelick, a high depression screening score may equate to a more than two-fold increase in risk of stroke and even if depression symptoms resolve during follow-up, there may still be a 66% risk of having a stroke. Researchers aren’t sure why the risk doesn’t diminish. Depression is known to be related to unhealthy behaviors that increase cardiovascular risk, such as physical inactivity and smoking, but these factors alone may not fully explain their findings. For more on addressing depression and suicide as we age, check out our resource page.

Six students have committed suicide in the last 14 months at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the university’s suicide rate surpassed the national average both last year and this year. In response, MIT has launched a number of initiatives including “Stress Less Day” – an event sponsored by the student mental health awareness group, Active Minds. Attendees can pick up flyers listing mental health facts and campus resources. Students can also avail themselves of Student Support Services, where academic deans help connect students with mental health care or ask professors for leeway during a jam-packed week. However, academic pressure may not have played a major role in MIT’s string of student suicides. Mental health professionals say a combination of factors, including mental illness, is usually to blame for suicide. According to Victor Schwartz, medical director of the JED Foundation, which helps colleges improve their suicide prevention programming, “With undergraduates, the information we have suggests more that suicidal behavior is more often associated with relationship or family problems.”

A special issue of American Psychologist provides a comprehensive review of over 40 years of research on bullying among school age youth, documenting the current understanding of the complexity of the issue and suggesting directions for future research. “The lore of bullies has long permeated literature and popular culture. Yet bullying as a distinct form of interpersonal aggression was not systematically studied until the 1970s. Attention to the topic has since grown exponentially,” said Shelley Hymel, PhD, professor of human development, learning and culture at the University of British Columbia, a scholarly lead on the special issue along with Susan M. Swearer, PhD, professor of school psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Inspired by the 2011 U.S. White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, this collection of articles documents current understanding of school bullying.” The special issue consists of an introductory overview (PDF, 90KB) by Hymel and Swearer, co-directors of the Bullying Research Network, and five articles on various research areas of bullying including the long-term effects of bullying into adulthood, reasons children bully others, the effects of anti-bullying laws and ways of translating research into anti-bullying practice. See the full list of articles here.

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